Tuesday, November 25, 2008

South Park Conservatives

Another "oldie" book review here... South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias by Brian C. Anderson carries a 2005 copyright, and seemed to have top-ticked the market in conservative political ascendancy. Bush had won a second term, the extreme anti-war Left had revealed itself to be largely populated by aging hippies and various out-at-any-cost radicals, the Democratic party (as embodied by John Kerry) had no answer to Islamism, and the mainstream media had been scooped and occasionally discredited by bloggers - some of whom presumably wore pajamas while blogging.
Quite a bit has happened since then.

Ever since the phrase "South Park Republicans" was coined I've casually identified myself with the designation. The bitingly insightful criticism coupled with often coarse language that can be found in many of the blog posts in the "moronosphere" (led by the Original Moron, the Ace of Spades) offer an obvious comparison to the profanity-laced satirical cartoon. From my own experiences as an individual who was a freshman in college when the first "South Park" short clips started getting internet circulation, I think a clear trend has formed. There is a generation of younger Americans who have an appreciable anti-political-correctness layered on top of their natural partisan tendencies, and that many of those sentiments are more seriously irritated by the political left than by the right.

Expecting to gain further insight into this phenomenon, I ordered a used copy South Park Conservatives off the internet for under five bucks. It's even blurbed by Jonah Goldberg, an idol of many younger conservatives: "This book will change the debate about the future of conservatism."

Unfortunately, the oft-overlooked subtitle ("The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias") reveals the true thrust of the book, the backlash against the mainstream media. The themes of the book are largely known to any serious conservative reader: the unmistakable left-leaning bias of journalists, the rise of talk-radio and Fox News, the internet, and blogs. Among the less less-well appreciated evolutions are the rise of conservative book publishers and an increase in conservatism on college campuses.

Chapter 5 (of 8) is devoted to the South Park "Anti-liberals". Much of the "South Park" oriented content is a series of extended dialog quotes from the show demonstrating how the often vulgarity-strewn comedy rejects politically correct domination over the culture. The remaining half-chapter extends this observation to comedians like Colin Quinn and Dennis Miller.

The Chapter on the Blogosphere shows the book's age. In 2005 it might have been said that conservatives dominated the web, but no longer. Still, the conservative blogosphere maintains its primary function as the ultimate "bullshit detector" for the mainstream media, and it plays that role in a way that the left-leaning blogosphere cannot. Just as the right and left use radio, print, and television differently, so too do they use the internet differently, and for the right to attempt to carbon-copy the left's internet presence would not work.

Given the book's title, I had hoped for a more thorough examination of the South Park anti-liberal audience. Sadly, the book's title seems like an effort to ride the coattails of the very popular television show. "South Park" and its audience is a tangential topic in an otherwise unremarkable book about the rejection of polticial correctness and the evolution of information media in the country.

It is all too clear from Anderson's optimistic Conclusion chapter that cultural trends do not flow in one direction only. Hindsight allows me to pick on him a little:

News outlets will need to rein in their biases or risk blogosphere exposure and ridicule - a lesson the New York Times and CBS News should have learned by now.

On the contrary, exposure and ridicule have only emboldened the biases of traditional media outlets. The 2008 election cycle proved this emphatically.

The Left will have to reexamine, argue, and refine its positions, so many of which have proved disastrously wrong, and stop living off the past. It's hard to imagine that this development won't result in a broader, richer, deeper national debate - something liberals of an older, John Stewart Mill-stripe would have welcomed.

Enabled by an utter failure of governance by Republican officials, the bulk of the Democratic party has reached far into the past to the Progressive era and many of those disastrously wrong policies. Bush's "ownership society" as been derided as an "on your own" philosophy in a decidedly un-Millian fashion.

As to Goldberg's promise of "chan[ing] the debate about the future of conservatism", I think the South Park Conservative phenomenon does inform the direction of the ideological and existential debate in which defeated conservatives find ourselves. Even tentatively accepting Anderson's assertion that social conservatism among college age individuals is on the rise, the libertarian bent of 18-30 year olds seems apparent. This should be one more cog in the argument against "compassionate conservatism" and the massive state power that do-good-ism creates. To the extent that Huckabeeism threatens the libertarian segment of the conservative coalition it should be curtailed.

Back to the party of Grover Norquist.

Keep us safe and leave us alone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post inspired me to watch the South Park movie again. Oh dear lord, I forgot how good it was.


"Shut the fuck up, you fucking jew!"
"Eric! Did you just say the 'f' word?"